WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, delivered the following remarks this morning at a Veterans Day ceremony at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall:
Keynote Veterans Day Address by U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Friends of the National World War II Memorial
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
It was a beautiful morning in Hawaii. I had other things on my mind on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, as I am sure that all of you who remember it, did. I was seventeen-years-old, studying at the Kamehameha School for Boys on the island of Oahu.
From the roof of my dormitory, which overlooked Pearl Harbor, I watched the Japanese planes swarm. Bombs and torpedoes fell from those aircraft, delivering a crippling blow to the Pacific fleet. I did not know what life had in store for me, the Territory of Hawaii, or this nation, but I knew that the world had already changed.
Some people presumed that the attack on Pearl Harbor would break America militarily and frighten the public into a corner. They said that Americans were too caught up in their own concerns and self-interest to make the sacrifices necessary to win a fight of this magnitude. They would be proven wrong, by the young people who set their lives and dreams aside to fight that war; by the families who tended to “victory gardens,” and by the children who went house to house, rounding up scrap metal for the war effort.
When that war was over, and millions of men and women prepared to be citizens again, rather than soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, there were doubts again. Some doubted that a generation of veterans could reintegrate into society without disaster. They were wrong. This is because when we came home, we returned to a grateful nation, and to a GI Bill of Rights that – while it did not always run smoothly – reminded us that we still had our lives ahead of us.
The young veterans that some feared went on to lead what would come to be known as the “greatest generation” – Presidents, Nobel laureates, and leaders in their communities. Their defining contribution would not be how they helped to win a war – great as that achievement was – it was what they did with the peace they had earned. The countless many that lived lives of service and sacrifice long after they took off the uniform.
Let us consider them when we reflect at this memorial on this day, the day first set aside to remember the day the First World War ended.
Their brothers, sons and daughters now fill the ranks of the Veterans Service Organizations. They advocate not only for the needs of today, but for the veterans of tomorrow, and for the nation and ideals they risked everything to defend. The Veterans Service Organizations deserve special thanks on this day, because of what they stand for and who they fight for.
As we stand here at the World War II Memorial, we who fought that war know too well that today’s service men and women face challenges similar to those from our youth. So does our nation. But if we remember the lessons of World War II: that our warriors can do great things if they return to a grateful nation that provides them with the care and support they have earned; and that all Americans have a role to play in winning whatever measure of peace we gain, we can do more than honor the legacy of the World War II generation – we can extend it.
November 11, 2009